Undergraduate Program

Human Development and Family Studies (HD FS)

'Preparing You for Improving Lives'

Are you interested in understanding human behavior, in learning how people relate to one another and about how to make a difference in their lives? Then consider majoring in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). As an HDFS major, you would learn about how individuals develop and change from birth to old age, how families and communities influence these processes, and how to apply this knowledge in order to develop, implement and evaluate interventions designed to improve people’s lives.

The HDFS major provides a foundation for students interested in working in human services with many different types of people—from infants to the elderly—and in many different settings from public and non-profit agencies to business and government. We prepare students to become leaders in human services, to develop new models for preventing and treating social and mental health problems and to become advocates for new social programs and policies. The HDFS major is also excellent preparation for graduate school in the social, behavioral, and health sciences or for advanced professional training in clinical and counseling psychology, marriage and family therapy, social work, law, business, medicine and other health professions.

Five Reasons to Major in HDFS

  • HDFS is interdisciplinary. We believe that human development can best be understood by looking at the whole person, rather than from the narrow perspective of a single discipline. Our interdisciplinary approach makes use of an outstanding faculty who help students integrate knowledge about development from many perspectives—psychological, sociological, economic, gerontological, cultural, as well as biological. (Learn more about the faculty and their interests here).
  • HDFS examines development “in context.” Rather than just focusing on laboratory studies of development, our faculty teach students about how people develop and change in the settings where these processes occur--families, schools, communities and the work place. We look at the interaction of person and context, that is, how these settings influence development, how individuals affect the contexts they live in, how contexts vary by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class and urban versus rural setting, and how interventions in these settings can facilitate growth and reduce problems in development.
  • HDFS focuses on the whole life span—from birth to old age. We believe that our students need to know about people at different ages, and not just one age group. Students who are interested primarily in studying children and adolescents benefit from learning about parenthood and the social, psychological and economic factors that affect how parents care for their children. Students interested in gerontology also learn about how younger people view and interact with older individuals, and about the possibilities for creative intergenerational programs.
  • HDFS students gain hands-on experience. HDFS students have many opportunities to integrate classroom learning with hands-on experience, such as service learning and other classroom assignments. Most students complete a full-time internship, in which they gain valuable experience in the type of job that they want to obtain after completing their degree. Students interested in early childhood education can take practicum courses in our two laboratory schools that allow them to integrate knowledge of child development with skills for working with young children. Students interested in research can work with faculty on a range of exciting research projects.
  • HDFS teaches students the most up-to-date information. Students learn the most current information for understanding development, as well as the diversity among individuals and families from different communities and cultures. They also learn critical thinking skills for evaluating new information, and for moving from theory to application. Students have the opportunity to work with faculty on their on-going research, and to learn skills to conduct research.

HDFS Undergraduate Flyer

What you can do with an HDFS degree

The need for people with the preparation to work in the human services field is growing:

  • The nation’s population of older people is growing, and the number of trained persons who can provide help and assistance to them falls far short of the need;
  • Dual-earner and single parent families have become the norm, resulting in the need for more high quality day care;
  • Social problems such as child abuse and drug and alcohol problems affect many people;
  • Emerging adults face a multitude of social and economic pressures that can undermine self-esteem, and lead to problems in work and relationships.

Because of these and other social trends, the demand for HDFS graduates is strong. Many of our graduates go directly to the work place in many different human services and health care settings and jobs. Graduates work in day-care centers, drug and alcohol treatment centers, hospitals, child and domestic abuse centers, runaway shelters, nursing homes, assisted living, adult day services and other types programs for older people. HDFS graduates may provide direct services such as counseling and case management, or help plan, develop and manage programs and services. Graduates also are in demand in business and industry for their understanding of people, their knowledge of group dynamics, and their skills in training and in program development and evaluation. Recent HDFS graduates have been employed in settings involved with prevention of child sexual abuse, prevention of childhood obesity, tenant relations in urban apartment living, counseling of dying patients and their families at a hospice, and in human resources departments of large companies.

Many graduates go on to earn an advance degree in a related human services or health field, or in the science of development and family life.

Program Goals: What HDFS Students Will Learn

As an HDFS student you will learn about concepts and research that will help you understand human development across the life span. You will learn how people and families develop--biologically, psychologically, and socially. You will study individuals and families in your own and other cultures, and learn how the family, the workplace, schools, the community, and the larger culture affect and are affected by the individual. Along with a solid background on the development of individuals and families, you will study problems such as child and spouse abuse, drug addiction, and divorce. You will learn skills for helping individuals, families, or groups through prevention or intervention techniques. In addition to examining specific problems, you will learn how human service agencies and professionals deal with these problems. You will study moral, ethical, and legal issues you will face as professionals and learn to evaluate alternative approaches to promoting optimal development. Also, you are encouraged to develop the leadership and managerial skills necessary for success in administration and evaluation of human service programs.

Why Choose HDFS?

You have the opportunity to learn:

  • critical thinking skills
  • communication skills
  • helping skills
  • group process skills
  • program planning skills
  • intervention skills
  • evaluation skills
  • research skills

For general information about admission to the Pennsylvania State University, visit the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Admissions.


Please use the links at the right side of the page to navigate through materials relevant to HDFS Undergraduates. For additional information on topics not addressed on this site, please contact us.


The HDFS department would like to make students aware of the many resources available to help support their success at Penn State. Click the link above for a document that contains locations and contact information to resources that are relevant to you. Resources include:

  • Academic Tutoring
  • Writing Support
  • Financial Aid
  • Multicultural Resources
  • Office for Disability Services
  • An many others...


In addition to University Park, HDFS courses and degrees are available at many other Penn State campuses. See individual campuses for information.

World Campus

In addition to the programs offered residentially at the campuses, some HDFS courses, the associate's degree, and the bachelor's degree are offered online through Penn State World Campus.

Continuing Education

Some HDFS courses are offered off-campus through Continuing Education. For more information on these courses, please consult the Penn State Continuing Education Web site. Courses taken through Continuing Education may satisfy requirements for HDFS degrees.

Student Profiles

Learn more about some of the unique ways in which HDFS students are advancing their own careers and helping the people around them.

Summer Session

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